We already knew the Bucks would be looking to make a big splash next week when the NBA's annual free agency bonanza begins, but we didn't know how serious their chances were of landing a big name big man like Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez or DeAndre Jordan.
Well, they're starting to look a bit more real.
The L.A. Times' Broderick Turner reports that the Bucks will be among four teams pitching the almost-27-year-old Jordan at his home next week, all of which is rather incredible when you consider where this franchise was 15 months ago. Via Turner:
When free agency starts at 9:01 p.m. PDT Tuesday, Jordan will be home in Houston.
The Clippers can offer Jordan the most security.
He can sign a five-year maximum deal for $108 million with the Clippers. Other teams under the salary cap can offer Jordan a maximum deal of four years for $80 million, with an opt-out clause after the third season.
It's not to suggest the Bucks are anyone's favorites to land Jordan, but at a minimum they're in the conversation, and that matters. The mere suggestion of a max-level player considering leaving L.A. for Milwaukee would have gotten you laughed at back in the days of Herb Kohl and Larry Drew, but here we are -- and here is pretty cool. To figure out what it would mean and whether there's a chance in hell of it happening, let's answer some important questions.
Should the Bucks actually want DeAndre Jordan?
From a Bucks standpoint it's tough to argue against throwing max money at him just to see if he'd bite. While you can't expect him to do much with the ball other than grab it, dunk it or block it into the third row, he's rather phenomenal at all of those things. Jordan has led the league in total dunks, defensive rebounds and total rebounds each of the past two seasons (including a stunning 15.0 rpg last year), and he's also an excellent shot-blocker (2.2 bpg). He might not be quite worthy of the defensive player of the year hype he's gotten, but whatever. He's a game-changer on the defensive end and perhaps the league's preeminent garbageman on the other (71% shooting from the field last year!).
The main thing you'd worry about is his offensive fit on a team lacking superior offensive talent like the Clippers -- especially if he's making the move with the expectation of getting lots of post touches. But in aggregate it's tough to nitpick this idea too much. Ultimately we're talking about a max-level talent who's also in his prime and plays a position of need. You sign that guy and worry about the details (and his free throw shooting) later.
What could the Bucks offer Jordan financially?
The Greivis Vasquez trade means that the Bucks would have to clear around $3 million in cap room to make Jordan a four-year max offer starting around $19 million and totaling about $81 million. That figures to be the starting point for any discussion, and the good news is that there are a number of ways the Bucks could do that. Finding a team to absorb Jerryd Bayless' $3 million deal would be the easiest option -- you'd hope the Bucks pushed the Raptors to do that as part of Thursday's trade -- as it would also help alleviate the team's current logjam in the backcourt.
They could also try to swing a cap-clearing deal for O.J. Mayo, whose expiring $8 million salary might be vaguely movable depending on what would be coming back. Mayo is also more expendable after Thursday night's drafting of UNLV shooting guard Rashad Vaughn, though I'd warn anyone against assuming Vaughn will be a passable rotation guy as a 19-year-old rookie. While I'm normally all in favor of giving young guys minutes, I doubt the Bucks are desperate to throw Vaughn into the fire when they have Mayo as a solid short-term placeholder, and I think that's probably for the best.
If Jordan were intent on leaving L.A., it's also very possible the Clippers would begrudgingly agree to a sign-and-trade deal that would allow him to make more money while enabling the Clippers to get back at least some assets in return. In that scenario you could see them interested in Mayo, especially if someone like John Henson and/or Miles Plumlee was also attached to the deal. Keep in mind the Clippers won't have cap space in the event Jordan signs outright for another team, so their incentive to play ball and get something for him would be high. That's also why giving up useful assets like Henson for an unrestricted free agent like Jordan might not even be necessary, especially considering that Jordan won't be paid any more in a sign-and-trade than he could by being signed outright. In any case, there's no shortage of potential scenarios, with a Chandler-for-Jordan double sign-and-trade between Dallas and the Clippers among the more interesting possibilities bandied about this summer. That would be a nice consolation prize for L.A. but bad news for the Bucks, as it would take two of their primary center targets off the market in one fell swoop.
Why Jordan won't end up a Buck: The first question is probably why Jordan would want to leave L.A. in the first place. Considering his limited offensive skillset, Jordan's complementary role with the Clippers would seem to be rather perfect: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin justifiably attract most of opponents' defensive attention, and both are terrific passers. Moreover, the Clippers can offer Jordan bigger raises (always good) and a fifth year on his deal, which may or may not have big appeal in a world with a rapidly rising cap.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers has also been a huge supporter/cheerleader of Jordan, and he's widely credited with helping him take his game to the next level over the past few seasons. And in case you weren't paying attention, NBA players almost universally like living in L.A., so I doubt a guy who was raised in Houston and spent the last seven years in L.A. would consider Wisconsin winters a selling point. It is what it is. So if the money is better, the teammates are more talented, the market is bigger and the weather is warmer....well, would you turn that down? Logic would suggest Jordan's agent Dan Fegan might simply be bringing the Bucks, Mavs and Lakers in to force the Clips to offer a full five-year max, and for that you can't really blame him.
Depending on what Jordan is after, other teams could also make him a more compelling pitch than the Bucks. The Clippers are legitimate title contenders, and if he really wants to go back home to Texas (and not pay state income taxes for half his home dates), then the Mavericks offer clear appeal despite the obvious questions about their roster long-term. Though they've struck out with marquee free agents in recent years, Mark Cuban's team has long been an appealing destination and is widely considered a first class organization. The Lakers would probably also want to make that claim, and a switch to the Clippers' arch-rivals could be appealing if Jordan really wants to stick it to Steve Ballmer's club without having to change zip codes. It says a lot about the Bucks' evolving image that they're even in the conversation, but when you look at the competition it just seems like they're at least a year or two away from actually pulling something like this off.
Why he could end up a Buck: Let's start with why he might leave the Clippers, which I would think would still be his most likely destination. Despite their obvious on-court chemistry, Jordan's personal relationship with Chris Paul has been the topic of much speculation over the past month, with numerous reports suggesting it could lead Jordan to exit L.A. altogether. Apparently lobs can't heal all wounds?
Part of the issue in L.A. also seems to be Jordan's desire to have an expanded role offensively, which is both worrying -- no matter what his ego might tell him, he probably shouldn't get many touches -- and something the Bucks could actually offer him. It probably wouldn't help the Bucks offensively, but if you need to massage his ego in order to get him here...well, perhaps the ends justifies the means (and a few more post-ups)?
Overall, the chance to be the veteran centerpiece of an up-and-coming team in the weaker East could certainly have appeal to Jordan, and you'd guess that's what the Bucks would emphasize when they make their pitch. While Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the team's offensive centerpieces long-term, Jordan would be the team's highest-paid player, a focal point of the team's marketing efforts, and presumably a guy that Kidd would look to for leadership in a young locker room. I don't know if Jordan is up to the task, but the fact that he's even meeting with the Bucks suggests there's something about that possibility that he finds intriguing, with Kidd's presence likely a key factor in all of this.
Verdict: While stranger things have happened, I just can't quite get my mind around Jordan actually ending up in Milwaukee. While the Bucks could certainly cater to his desires for an expanded role offensively and a bigger profile in the organization overall, they're further from contention and are at a geographic disadvantage compared to the likes of the Clippers, Lakers and Mavericks. Moreover, they flat-out can't match the Clippers in some pretty important areas, with salary being perhaps the most obvious. So consider Jordan's interest an encouraging statement about how far the Bucks' organization has come, but don't get your hopes up too high.